Damsel in distress

An artistic "damsel in distress" pose, possibly an allusion to the Andromeda myth (circa 1920s).
A sensuous Andromeda painted by Paul Gustave Dore (1869).

The damsel in distress (abbreviated DID, D.I.D. or DiD) is a classic theme from literature, art, and film. The "damsel" (derived from the French demoiselle meaning "young lady", originally one of gentle or noble birth) is usually a beautiful young woman in captivity who requires a hero to dash to her rescue.

Chastity vs. sexualityEdit

The damsel is always depicted as a "fair maiden" (i.e., an unspoiled virgin devoid of sexual knowledge or desire). She is frequently held captive by a lusty male villain intent on forcing her, by blackmail or some other means, to marry him and become his reluctant queen or concubine. The implied sexual threat is often described as "a fate worse than death".

This type of story essentially represents the inner stuggle between sacred and profane love. The villain may be depicted as repulsive or he may be devilishly handsome, creating a dilemma for the sexually confused damsel. What is really at stake is her obvious purity and virtue. She must be rescued, with her virginity still intact, by a romantic (yet chaste) hero who is equally pure of heart.

Variations on a themeEdit

In other stories the damsel may or may not be threatened by death or another horrible fate. She is typically held captive, as a prisoner or in bondage in some remote fortress or lair.

In fairy and fantasy tales, she is sometimes not held by physical force but by a magic spell. Her captivity is not consensual, and her captor is not going to set her free unharmed, so she is in real distress. She can not possibly free herself and thus needs a third person as a rescuer.

The damsel in distress motif has often been criticised for being a stereotype of the beautiful but helpless woman who is reduced to a passive role in a fight between two forces. While her captor (the evil character) may be male, female, a fantasy creature, animal, or machine, her rescuer is stereotypically a male figure who proves his heroism by risking his own life in order to save the damsel.

Famous damsels in distressEdit

Andromeda, by Marguerite Arosa (1892).

In ancient Greek mythology, Andromeda is chained naked by her parents to a large rock or cliff by the shore as a sacrifice to a sea monster sent by Poseidon. She is saved by the hero Perseus who kills the monster and goes on to marry Andromeda. This became a favorite subject for painters from the Renaissance to the late Victorian era. The story was often used as an excuse to portray a voluptuous nude figure struggling in a state of eroticized bondage.

The damsel in distress was an archetypal character of medieval romances, where typically she was a princess rescued from imprisonment in a tower of a castle, or from a dragon, by a knight-errant who would then fall in love with her at the end of the story. These heroic tales formed the basis of chivalry and the concept of courtly love. The theme also entered the official hagiography of the Catholic Church — most famously in the story of Saint George who saved a princess from being devoured by a dragon.

In 18th and 19th century literature, the damsel in distress is a staple character of Gothic literature, where she is typically incarcerated in a castle or monastery and menaced by a sadistic nobleman, or members of the religious orders. Early examples in this genre include Matilda in Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Emily in Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho and Antonia in Matthew Lewis's The Monk.

A famous example of the damsel in distress theme in 20th century film is Fay Wray in the 1933 movie King Kong. Another classic damsel was Jane Porter in both the novel and movie versions of Tarzan. In comics and animated cartoons, female characters get into damsel in distress situations in nearly every story, such as Olive Oyl in Popeye or Lois Lane in the Superman comics, animated series, television show, and films.

In BDSM literature and filmEdit

The Knight Errant (1870) by Sir John Everett Millais.
The Captive by Alfred Plauzeau (1920).

The damsel in distress motif has also inspired many works of BDSM literature and film, exposing and exploiting the erotic subtext which lies behind the scenario. One of the earliest and most notorious examples is the sadomasochistic novel Justine by the Marquis de Sade.

Another classic example is the comic character Sweet Gwendoline by John Willie. In 1984 this was adapted into an adventure film, The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of the Yik Yak starring Tawny Kitaen. The highlight of this campy film involves a secret underground civilization populated by topless Amazon-like women who wear BDSM fetish clothing and ride around in pony carts pulled by human slaves.

There is a fundamental difference between the traditional damsel in distress stories from mythology, literature, and mainstream films as opposed to the subculture of fetishistic bondage photos and videos. In the former, the heroine's captivity is a catalyst for heroic deeds that lead to her eventual rescue. In the latter, the eroticized bondage and helplessness of the female victim is simplified and celebrated as an end in itself, with no hero and no hope of escape or rescue. The appeal is based solely on the power exchange that comes from domination and submission. The bulk of the thousands of underground bondage videos and magazines produced since the late '70s offer nothing more than bound and gagged women in various states of undress hopelessly wriggling and struggling against their bonds.

  • An erotic spanking scene from a parody of silent damsel in distress films can be watched at PornHub.

DID fandomEdit

There is a fan community of people who are fascinated by damsel in distress scenes in (mainstream) film — scenes where a woman is bound and often also gagged. Enthusiasts post and share still images and video clips, generally editing the material to show only the parts where actresses are in some form of restraint. The term "Didcap" has been coined to describe a screen shot of this type. It is a portmanteau between DID and vidcap, for "video capture". Various websites and forums exist where DID fans discuss and share alerts for potential occurrences of DID scenes in forthcoming shows and movies.

See alsoEdit


  This page uses content from Wikipedia. The original article was at Damsel in distress. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Spanking Art, the text of Wikipedia is available under a copyleft license, the Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike license.